Ringo Starr Visits Campus to Receive Honorary Doctorate

At a special ceremony on campus, the multitalented artist and Beatles drummer reflected on his humble beginnings.

June 3, 2022

Who could’ve known that the future of rock and roll drumming would begin with a 13-year-old tapping a toy drum in a hospital? The echoes of those little taps would lead to some of the most innovative drum moments in rock history, from the raised drum set seen in 1964 when the Beatles played on The Ed Sullivan Show to the psychedelic wizardry of “Tomorrow Never Knows” to the electrifying drum solo in “The End.” And really, that was just the beginning for Ringo Starr, as he went on from his career as the Beatles’ drummer to become a chart-topping songwriter as a solo artist, as well as a beloved actor, producer, author, and photographer.

But after all those decades of creative success, it was to this humble beginning—a boy in a hospital with a toy drum—that Starr returned during a special ceremony on campus where the multitalented artist was presented with a Berklee honorary doctorate by President Erica Muhl. After accepting his diploma, Starr recounted how, at age 13, he was very ill, and had a two-year convalescence in a hospital in Liverpool, England. Starr said that to keep the children busy, “Once a month this woman brought in maracas, tambourines, triangles, and little drums. And she gave me a drum. I hit that drum, and it was like madness.”

For Starr, that was all it took. “I just wanted to be a drummer from that moment on,” he said. “It was my big dream, and you know it's still unfolding.”

Watch Ringo Starr accept his honorary doctorate:

Prior to Starr’s reflections, the ceremony also included remarks from President Muhl, Darla Hanley, dean of the Professional Education Division, and Gregg Bissonette, a celebrated drummer and educator who is currently on tour with Starr as part of the All-Starr Band. “Ringo taught us all how to play for the song,” Bissonette said. “Lots of drummers don't know how to do that, and they play and fill all over the singer. He showed us how to play dynamically.”

“Ringo's own story is a history that millions of people can recite,” Muhl mentioned in her remarks. “I could ask nearly anyone at Berklee to relate the most important milestones of Ringo's career as a Beatle, a drummer, a songwriter, a bandleader and actor, director and producer, and author, and a photographer, and I'd have enough information to fill volumes of biography.”

The ceremony began and concluded with a band that included students Johnathon Birch on drums, Luke Molloy on piano, and Carlos A. Fabre Munoz on bass, along with recent alums Ilija Mihailovic B.M. ’21 on vocals, Emily Sangder B.M. ’21 on guitar and vocals, and Sam Best B.M. ’22 on guitar (who later had his guitar signed by Starr's current touring guitarist, Steve Lukather, of Toto fame).

The students performed the All-Starr Band tracks “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Not Enough Love in the World” with a proud Starr looking on and miming the drum fills, that passion that began at 13 still on display seven decades later.